Monday, April 1, 2019on
By Kevin Caldwell, Raymond James Financial On March 20, 2019, we had a behind the scenes look at the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Rays, Bucs, and Lightning. We heard from leadership at each organization and gained a deeper understanding of the impact professional sports have on our community. Analog Devices was our program day sponsor and received a shout out early in the day from the Tampa Bay Rowdies who are using wearable devices to help monitor and enhance the performance of their athletes. Tampa Bay Rowdies We rode to downtown St. Pete and unloaded for our first stop, Al Lang Stadium. We were greeted by team mascot Pelican Pete and Chief Operating Officer Lee Cohen. We also learned that Mike Schackne’s son, Kyle, works for the team. Head coach Neill Collins and Chief Operating Officer Lee Cohen gave us their thoughts on the team, the organization, and the future. They play a 34-game season and are currently 2-0. The Rowdies are the flagship team in the USL Championship which is the Triple-A equivalent of United States professional soccer. Our tour of the facility included both locker rooms and the chance to walk on the field. The stadium has several seating options including Ralph’s Mob (named after original Rowdies mascot Ralph Rowdy) in a covered section of the NW corner of the stadium, VIP and corporate areas on the West side of the stadium with views of the marina, and a great grassy area for kids to play. Tampa Bay Rays [gallery ids="10025,10026" type="rectangular"] Upon our arrival at Tropicana Field, we learned that the stadium was in preparation mode for Opening Day. Our group tour started with the awesome 162 Landing seating area. This is a large area along the left field foul area with VIP seating for groups of 50-125 people. We learned that The Trop will have new turf for the 3rd straight year. The Rays work closely with Shaw Turf to test out new playing surfaces in the offseason to keep the artificial turf inside Tropicana Field as player-friendly as possible. From there we walked onto the field and into the dugout. We learned that there are 3 phones in the dugout - one to the bullpen, one to replay review, and one to the official scorer. We then went to the press box and other exclusive areas of Tropicana Field. We were treated to a panel discussion with members of the Rays front office including President, Brian Auld. Brian’s passion for our community and how the Rays fit into it was palpable. My favorite quote was “We are a mission-driven organization trying to energize the community through the magic of Rays baseball and Rowdies soccer”. Tampa Bay Buccaneers We crossed back over to the Tampa side of the bridge for a tour of One Buc Place. Team Reporter, Casey Phillips moderated a panel with VPs from the Bucs Communications, Digital Media, and Ticket Sales departments in the large auditorium. Social media has presented huge challenges and opportunities for professional sports organizations like the Bucs. On one hand, they have a tremendous platform to tell stories of the fabulous community service their players take part in. On the other hand, all the players have their own social media accounts and want to tell their own stories. My favorite quote from this discussion was from Deno Anagnost, VP of ticket sales who said, “The worst behavior you’re willing to tolerate is your organization’s culture.” We visited the team locker room, the press conference room, and had lunch in the team dining hall where we were able to visit the Lombardi trophy the Bucs won in Super Bowl XXXVII. Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Sports Commission, USF Athletics Our next stop was in downtown Tampa for a tour of Amalie Arena and a visit with leadership from the Tampa Bay Lightning, USF Athletics and the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. We walked around Amalie Arena while Disney on Ice was being loaded in for their weekend show. It was really cool to get a reminder as to how busy the arena is and how lucky we are to have such a strong venue in our market. Besides tours of the various luxury areas available for Lightning games and concerts, we were able to tour the Lightning weight room and locker room. This was an amazing look into the working lives of the players on the best team in the NHL! We then went to a panel discussion in the Firestick Grill with Rob Higgins from the Sports Commission and Michael Kelly from USF athletics. We learned that the continued theme throughout our year of community collaboration is alive in well in the sports tourism area as well. Fifteen years ago, the Tampa Bay Sports Commission started to attract large scale sporting events to our market. At that time there were around 100 sports commissions across the country. Due to their massive success, there are now over 650. USF is a huge part of this collaboration even, being the host University for the 2018 CFP National Championship game. After the 2021 Super Bowl, Tampa will be one of a handful of cities across the US who have hosted 5 Super Bowls. Also included in our roster of prestigious events are the College Football National Championship, the Frozen Four, the Women’s Final Four (this year), the NHL All-Star Game, David Lechner’s personal favorite Wrestlemania, and multiple youth sporting tournaments that drive serious dollars to our community. Jarrod Dillon, Chief Marketing Officer of the Tampa Bay Lightning, took us behind the scenes of the creation of the Lightning’s 3rd alternate jersey. Their goal with this all black jersey was to excite the next generation of hockey fans. We learned about the huge amount of time and resources that went into the creation, marketing, and launch of this awesome jersey. Our classmate, Eric Blankenship, even had a role in its creation. In our behind the scenes look at the Tampa Bay Sports market we learned a lot. My biggest takeaway is that we are extremely fortunate to have 3 major professional sports and a burgeoning 4th team in our community. It is also awesome that we have the University of South Florida who has over 19 different sports played by its Division I athletes. The hospitality, weather, and strategic planning our community leaders have put into place make Tampa Bay a dominant preeminent player nationally in the business of sports.